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Westminster Abbey
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Whether viewed as church, burial ground, coronation site or simply as an historical object, Westminster Abbey continues to attract visitors over 900 years after its founding by Henry III in 1245.

Despite its repute for a building of fame and beauty, in many respects the architecture of Westminster Abbey is really quite common. Here, you find the traditional cross-shaped floor plan with a nave, north and south transepts (a section of building lying across the main body of the building), and several round side areas, for example. For the citizens of London, and the world, however, its execution and use raise The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster (its official name) to among the highest of church construction.

No common place in stone or story, here lie buried kings and poets, scientists and philosophers who have, by their personal contributions to the fabric of the world, raised humankind to the highest levels. Here rest Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell (discoverer of electromagnetic theory, which later lead to radio and TV), Chaucer and Kipling, Dr. Samuel Johnson (creator of the first English dictionary) and many other justly famous shapers of history, science, religion, knowledge, and thought.

Here also lie many of the factual, though sometimes fabled, kings of English history. Brash, boisterous Henry III, for example, who reigned from the age of nine for 56 years, is buried in the Abbey. In fact, much of the current structure owes its origins to his efforts.

One famous Englishman who many believe is buried there is not.  England's "Immortal Bard", William Shakespeare, is interred in the chancel of The Church of the Holy Trinity in his hometown of Stratford-on-Avon.

Even though at the center of history for centuries and in the eyes of the public as well, new discoveries are still being made within its walls.

As recently as 2005 the burial tomb of its founder, Edward the Confessor (Edward I) was discovered beneath a 1268 AD Cosmati mosaic. A number of other royal tombs dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries were also found using ground penetrating radar.

But far from being merely a repository for the dead, here centuries of history come alive as well. Still an active church, Westminster Abbey is the site of services and events for all denominations. Used for every coronation since that of William the Conqueror in 1066, pageantry combines with austerity to create an atmosphere of grandeur.

Of course, Westminster Abbey is also known for being the site of so many royal weddings, including that of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer in 1981, and, today, as I write this, the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

The grandeur of the Abbey can be seen in the enormous vaulted ceilings, typical of early Gothic design. But the artistic grandeur combines with technological brilliance. Just as one example, the support arches are not the ornate visible ones, but are actually enclosed within the thick stone roof.

The art housed within Westminster Abbey alone makes the site worth visiting. Inside the west entrance is a portrait of Richard II, painted in 1390, making it one of the oldest known contemporary portraits of a British monarch.

There are several outstanding monuments in the nave, including those depicting Winston Churchill and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior of WWI. This last was the last full-body interment in the abbey. Only containers of ashes are allowed now.

From the cloister, you can walk to the octagonal Chapter House near Poet's Corner, one of the earliest constructed sections, built at the time of Henry III. Here you can see the mixture of architectural styles forming the Abbey, the inevitable result of additions made over the centuries.

Stroll over to the south transept to view the original rose window with its nearby rare medieval sculpture. Our modern concept of three dimensional art was often considered sinful during the period when it was made.

Then move and stand near the center where the various architectural elements join and take in a 360 degree view of this home of history. Almost 1,000 years of history in a brief glance, still alive and still being made.

The Abbey is easily reached by the tube (the London Underground subway system). Exit at the St James Park stop, and you will be a short walk away..

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The Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster - Isaac Newton - James Clerk Maxwell - Chaucer - Kipling - Dr. Samuel Johnson - Henry III - William Shakespeare - The Church of the Holy Trinity - Stratford-on-Avon - Edward the Confessor - Edward I - William the Conqueror - Richard II - Winston Churchill - The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior of WWI - Chapter House - Poet's Corner - London Underground

Page Updated 11:05 AM Saturday 7/12/2014